Beer drinkers left flat by Anheuser-Busch brews are suing in federal courts in five states, claiming the products’ labels exaggerate alcohol content.
Putative class-action suits, seeking damages of $5 million or more, were filed this week in Camden, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Denver and on Feb. 22 in San Francisco, and others may be bubbling up.
Eleven beers, including Budweiser and Michelob varieties, are cited as overstating alcohol content, allegedly verified by former employees who said that Anheuser-Busch routinely watered down the brews prior to bottling.
Lead plaintiff lawyer Corey Bennett, of the Mills Law Firm in San Rafael, Calif., says alcohol content was overstated by 3 to 8 percent. The true content for Michelob Ultra, for example, is 3.8 percent to 4.1 percent, compared with 4.2 percent on the label, he says.
Other beers cited in the complaints are Black Crown, Bud Ice, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Platinum, Busch Ice, King Cobra, Natural Ice and Hurricane High Gravity Lager.
The named plaintiff in the Camden suit, Brian Wilson of Gloucester Township, claims he bought a case of Michelob Ultra monthly but would not have done so had he known the labeled alcohol content was inaccurate.
His suit, Wilson v. Anheuser-Busch Companies, 13-cv-01122, filed Monday, seeks to enjoin Anheuser-Busch from mislabeling and to order it to pay for a corrective advertising campaign.
Wilson raises claims under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and the federal Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act and common law and equitable claims, such as breach of implied warranty of merchantability and unjust enrichment.
He contends that Anheuser-Busch began watering down its alcohol content to below the percentage stated on labels after it merged in June 2008 with InBev SA, a beer maker in Belgium.
Anheuser-Busch manufacturing facilities allegedly are equipped with instruments known as Anton-Paar meters that can determine alcohol content to within .01 percent of a desired level.
"If AB chose to, it could use its Anton-Paar meters to target the exact alcohol content of its finished products to conform to the representation on its labels," the Wilson complaint claims. "Conversely, since AB knows the precise alcohol content on each of its products, it could conform its labels for each such product to accurately state that content."
Anheuser-Busch called the lawsuits "groundless" and the allegations "completely false." Peter Kraemer, vice president of brewing and supply, said, "Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws. We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beers, which have made them the best-selling in the U.S. and the world."
Wilson’s lawyer, David Senoff of Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Conboy of Philadelphia, declined comment.
Charles Toutant is a reporter for the New Jersey Law Journal, a Legal affiliate.